The Crucible was written by playwright Arthur Miller in 1953; however, the play is set against the backdrop of the Salem Witch Trials that took place in a colony of Puritan descendants living along the Massachusetts Bay in the late 17th century (1692-1693).
The era of the Salem Witch Trials was rife with anxiety and fear caused by a number of factors. The Puritan descendants of the Massachusetts Bay colony lived in harsh conditions on the edge of a vast wilderness filled with dangers, both literal and symbolic. Moreover, the early colonists were in constant tension and conflict with the indigenous tribes who were growing uneasy with the expanding European population and its claims on their native and sacred lands. Changes in the political climate of England–ignited by the coronation of King Charles I–meant that the American colonies were no longer guaranteed self-government and relative autonomy, and England began to rule the colonies with a stronger hand. New enemies and new dangers seemed to threaten the colonists from every quarter.
It was out of this fear, tension and anxiety that Puritan paranoia grew. In the male-dominated world of the Puritans, women and other outcasts on the margins of society were obvious and easy targets.
The parallels with contemporary American society cannot be overstated. In the wake of the economic devastation wrought by the Great Recession of 2008, our seemingly endless series of conflicts in the Middle East, the threat of terrorism in the post 9-11 world, and recent changes in societal norms, many have grown suspicious of those who are different from them and some seek out segments of the population to blame for these tumultuous and often confusing phenomena.
Students in English III are asked to consider who might be today’s outcasts–who do we blame for the fears and anxieties in our culture?